The Freelance Fidgets
Becoming comfortable with the ebbs and flows, and renewing a love of writing
Broadway, freelancers, and retailers have something in common: January and February are notoriously slow months that leave you feeling fidgety about future prospects. That is certainly true in my case, although you could make the argument that any month can be notoriously slow for business when you’re caught in the tendrils of a pandemic.
Freelancing, for those who’ve never done it, is like learning how to drive a stick shift. After a certain amount of gear grinding, you gradually find a rhythm. Then, you’re speeding along, thinking everything is great, only to find yourself going from fifth to first without hitting the clutch. After checking the car for damage, you tentatively start over again. And again.
For the most part, I’ve learned how to be good with the ebbs and flows. I try to use the time to recharge, to read and learn from others, and much to my wife’s chagrin, avoid finishing our taxes.
The problem is that I enjoy multitasking, in part because my attention span is compromised. Focus is limited and distractions are plentiful. Boredom and restlessness are innate traits, so I’ve always worked to accumulate knowledge and skills as quickly as possible before the next thing that grabs me comes along.
Multitasking was helpful during my career in daily journalism and while working in school district communications. And when we moved to the Washington, D.C., area, the day-to-day frenzy of parenting supplemented a job that did not have constant up-to-the-minute deadlines.
The move into freelancing is what made me realize I have worked my entire life to mask ADD. When I have a lot to do — feature writing, photo projects, this once or twice a week essay — focus comes because my brain is in a sweet spot. Give me one task and, because I’m easily distracted, I struggle to complete it.
As is the case with many creatives, the pandemic has represented two years of going from fifth to first. The clutch, along with my desire to be creative, has burned out more times than I care to admit.
Reflecting and Processing
For a long time, I did not want to look back at the past because I was looking ahead to the next thing. But being in the second half of my 50s, living in an unsettled world with kids who are grown, brought a flood of memories that I’m still attempting to process. And writing has always been how I process.
Last year, I decided to renew the blog you’re reading now on the Substack platform; this site also houses the magazine articles I write as well as a section I call “The Music Diaries.” I thought it would be easy to get back into essay writing, but quickly lost momentum. The muse went missing; for a brief period, I struggled to finish the articles I was writing for paying clients.
Call it what you want — pandemic fog, mild depression, general fatigue — but the saga of the missing muse was troubling. Then, one day while on a six-mile walk (another pandemic distraction), I realized why the muse had disappeared.
If you go back to the first articles for my middle school newspaper (please don’t), I’ve been a writer for more than 40 years. The vast majority of that work has involved interviewing other people, taking what they have to say about an event/trend/moment in time, and putting it into print. The multitasking required to be productive in a professional setting made it easy to sideline personal writing except when major life events occurred.
Over the past two years, I haven’t multitasked much (with some exceptions, such as two weeks ago). The professional writing had become somewhat rote, the same drill time and again. Photography, which filled the creative gap, had become intermittent. I wasn’t burned out. I was creatively lost.
Amid the flood of reflection, I wasn’t writing enough to process the memories that have invaded my brain over the past two years and 4,000 miles of walking. And my inability to sort had brought me to a languishing halt.
That, my friends, was not acceptable.
Finally, last August, I started shooting concerts for the first time in 18 months. The muse found itself captivated by the joy of live performance.
Last October, I made a vow to invest the creative resources and time in this blog, to write about the personal stuff, hoping that would light a fire on the professional end again.
You’re reading that “stuff” now. And I’m happy to report that I’m enjoying the professional writing once more, thanks to the one for me, one for them approach. Despite the fidgety nature of this time of year, I’m anxious to see what’s ahead, and grateful to feel creatively fulfilled again.
One thing about not being busy: You find yourself imagining conversations between the family dog (Penny) and cat (Sheldon).
Penny: “See, I’m standing up to you.”
Sheldon: “You’re trying to get up on the couch.”
“I’m in charge!”
“Go ahead, think that.”
“But I am!!”
Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic (subscription required), writing about Tom Brady’s retirement: “I can respect Brady wanting to spend more time with his kids, but soon he will learn what the rest of us know: They’re in school for most of the day, and when they get home, they want to play Sneaky Sasquatch on their iPads, watch TV and generally ignore their parents.”
Jill and I were talking about some obscure show from childhood and could not remember the name of one of the actors. It was on the tip of our respective tongues, but after a couple of minutes, we succumbed to the inevitable Google search, which prompted my lovely wife to say: “It takes a village to remember a name when you’re over 50.”
From Lucie Arnez, talking about her mother, Lucille Ball: “Life is a composite of what you’ve absorbed.”
Marshall, Texas, is only 20 miles or so from Longview, where my grandparents on both sides lived and my parents grew up. Like many county seats in the state, Marshall is famous for its early 20th century courthouse and being the birthplace of boogie woogie music, which is reason enough for me to visit. It’s also the birthplace of George Foreman, New York Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle, the fictional Sheldon Cooper, and a man by the name of Heartsill Wilson.
It's not a surprise if you don’t know who that last person is. Wilson was an automobile industry executive who left his career to become a motivational speaker. And it’s his quote that I leave you with today (courtesy of Mel Robbins):
"This is the beginning of a new day. You have been given this day to use as you will. You can waste it or use it for good. What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever; in its place is something that you have left behind ... let it be something good."